MISSOULA — Gresch Jensen was meant to be Montana’s starting quarterback.
But not like this. Not this fast. Not now.
Jensen — a redshirt freshman from the suburbs of Seattle — was expected to get some playing time in Montana’s nonconference finale against Savannah State as the second-string quarterback.
But not like this. Not this fast. Not in the second quarter.
As Montana’s starting quarterback Reese Phillips lay on the field, writhing in agonizing pain, Jensen began to warm up. The “next man up” mentality became very real for Jensen.
“It was a little tough just seeing him out there laying down.” Jensen said. “I know how hard he worked and how good of a person he is. You gotta get mentally ready though. You don’t want to look at it too much, try not to look at it because that was pretty tough. … When you get out there, you just gotta get out there and focus on the next play and keep moving forward.”
It was revealed later by Phillips’ mom on Twitter that her son had broken a bone and ruptured some ligaments — injuries that required immediate surgery. All of it means Jensen is now Montana’s starting quarterback.
Jensen finished the emotional game by completing 11-of-15 passes for 178 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jensen had two carries for 6 yards and one rushing touchdown.
“I thought (he) was good,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said. “Gresch did a nice job of running what we do, but he also had some nice checks in there. He was aggressive on the 1-yard line. That was not the play call and he did a nice job of that. He did a couple times where he got us into something nice and put the ball where it needed to go.”
This isn’t the first time a Stitt offense has needed to go down in the depth chart at quarterback.
His first season in 2015, Brady Gustafson started the season before injuring his leg in the third game. Gustafson missed six games. Second-string quarterback Chad Chalich broke his foot two games later and third-string quarterback Makena Simis (now a senior wide receiver) started three games before Gustafson was cleared to play again.
The following season, Gustafson again began the year with starting duties but suffered an undisclosed injury and missed two games. Chalich took the reins for those two games.
And in the third game of the 2017 season, Stitt’s back to where he’s been several times before.
However, just because Phillips is likely out for the rest of the season, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. The team trusts Jensen.
“First off, he’s the real number 2,” senior cornerback Ryan McKinley (who also wears No. 2) said. “We have the utmost confidence in Gresch. He’s obviously a great talent, not only that, he’s a great kid. He’s a good friend. Am I surprised by what he did (Saturday)? Not at all. I think that speaks volumes to the type of player he is, type of person he is. … It’s tough replacing Reese, obviously, but we trust Gresch.”
Stitt echoed McKinley’s sentiment, saying Jensen is one of the most well prepared quarterbacks he’s coached over his career.
“I've been doing this, I don't even know, 31 or 32 years and I've never had a quarterback that's more prepared every single day, every single week, even though he was not the starting quarterback he was always very, very prepared and over prepared,” Stitt said. “He's in the film room late at night and that's one thing that everybody can trust in him. He will be prepared. He will know how to attack the defense. That's why he can go into that situation (Saturday) and do what he's doing because of his preparation. And that's a special thing.”
But as much as McKinley and Stitt praised Jensen, he has an even bigger supporter — Reese Phillips.
A week ago, before his injury, Phillips talked candidly about what he hopes for and what he sees in Jensen.
"Being a fan of this team going forward when I'm done here, he's the future of this program, no doubt," Phillips said of Jensen. "I think everyone knows that. He's ... the best young quarterback I've ever been around, as far as picking up things and just understanding since Day 1. He's impressed me.
"He's gotten so much better. First of all, the physical attributes. Him coming in, he doesn't look like a normal freshman quarterback. He's a big guy. He's a really good player. He's gonna be really good here. I'm excited for Gresch."
Next Saturday will be a big test for Jensen. Montana kicks of its Big Sky Schedule with No. 12 Eastern Washington.